Tuesday, January 22, 2008

East Meets West; Psychology for A New Paradigm


The labeling power of psychology can be mishandled, not only by intention, but by the very nature of labels, diagnosis and categories themselves. On the other hand, the positive aspects of knowledge enable the "knower" to see into things that may have before been mystified. For instance, knowing the terminology of an organ and the technical knowledge to operate enables a surgeon to efficiently handle procedures. But, can this same type of approach be used for the treatment of the whole human being, beyond his or her physiological body? In other words, the classical psychological approach is to learn how to map out the mind like an organ, labeling each mental state, thought, emotion and experience to its appropriate category. The mind, abstractly, is a vast network of logical equations and variables, in which the psychologist, or psychiatrist maps out and diagnosis. Although well researched and carefully thought out through rigorous scientific investigation, it is only so useful. For, the inner experience of "who I am" is dramatically different than the objective operating table. To the "me" inside, the experience of self is dynamic, organic and very much alive. Every day we are flooded with emotions, ideas and experiences which call for an understanding of "innerness." So, to approach the human being as merely the "outer" organs in which the self is hidden within, like a ghost in the machine, automatically creates a gap between the psychologist and his patient. This distance is perhaps unnecessary, as the psychologist himself is a human being, with an "inner" too. Is it possible to thus use an inner science to compliment the outer? Perhaps it is an assumption of our time that, to be scientific one must view the world through steel microscopes, to reduce the world to "outers." This would leave the human being missing quite literally half of his being, and this forgotten "inner" is perhaps just as important as the "outer," for it animates existence with the experience of life, the mysterious awareness we all have. The body and brain, in this sense, is the seat of the soul, or the self which is the hidden observer within us all. Without this, we are merely empty bio bags without a self. In the medical world, such a description would be called brain-dead. What is trying to be emphasized here is the need for an integrated view of our inners and outers.

So the problem of the psychologist is also the benefit. Her labeling power enables a field to work with, operating on the "inners" from the outside with a neat map to navigate with. To make this more tangible, take the example of a patient and psychologist. He takes a seat in a comfortable chair, with wooden floors and a well-lit room.

Now, the patent is suffering from a stormy, emotional inner of ups and downs. The patient describes this as being out of control - extreme moments of excitement followed by crash and burn bouts of depression. There are no go betweens, the patient describes, and he loses "common sense," potentially able to harm himself and others. He has finally gone to see a psychologist in hopes to gain some peace and autonomy back into his life. Now, hypothetically, the man is not aware he is suffering the symptoms of what is commonly called bi-polar "disease." After listening carefully, the psychologist can infer that he is a classic "bi-polar."

She describes to him the diagnosis, the cause of which is often explained by chemical imbalances in the brain. This is a life long disease, she describes, you have to learn to live with it. She recommends him to a psychiatrist for medication.

Medications, such as Abilify, might be taken by this man, in order to regulate the ups and downs and smooth out their peaks. This diagnosis, classically, is the best they say they can do. Now, there is a limitation to this kind of treatment as much as there is a benefit. By labeling something, we give it a certain connotation. It shapes its reality for us. This can both serve to narrow something or to enrich our understanding of it. Writers in the west, such as Foucault, tell us of the empowering, and potentially containing power of knowledge. Jiddu Krishnamurti describe how once you give a title to something, all potential to truly understand has ceased. It has now become a dead thing, shelved, booked, recorded and stored away. What is required, he suggests, is the capacity to listen, to explore the territory before squaring it away in maps, systems and modes of thought. Only then is there potential to truly connect and understand, in the unlabeled, dynamic, organic nature that is the human being, and is life.

Suspending for a moment, this library of classical psychological criteria, "diagnosis" then becomes a less restricted move to connect with the individual in need. The lense of abstraction is lifted, and if we have let down our own boundaries for an instant, perhaps we would see a different view of the "bi-polar man." Perhaps, then, we will have a different explanation for what a mental illness actually is. Perhaps, the previous divide between the inner and outer is what has created such great mental stress and strain on the human being. Questions like this will be free to be explored in such a new paradigm of thought.

Let's say that after a lengthy description of his symptoms, the patient is then asked to explore the causes for them. Through a careful self-analysis with the psychologist, the patient discovers he is repressing emotional insecurities, tension, anger and anxiety - and these repressed aspects of his subconscious slowly bubbled up into the sever condition he is in now. The man gains inner-knowledge, or self knowledge, instead of just outer knowledge. He is thus dealing with an internal experience, learning to understand its sources, as well as an outward understanding of his physiological makeup. 

Good health is not just the intake of diet, exercise and proper sleep, it is also the inner health, the mental, emotional and psychological state. A good model for psychology, then,  would recognize the human being as a complex creature of both inners and outers, as intricate as the single flower, with biological systems that dance in dynamic, organic equilibrium.

It can be said that we would no longer treat the machine to get to the ghost inside, but see both as direct, experiential and tangible. William James knew this early on, beginning his own journey through "inner" world by stating, "We now begin the study of the mind from within."

Within and without, let us begin our study, and usher in the new paradigm of a psychology for a deeper, wider and more inclusive world.


56 comments:

Microscopes said...

Thanks for this helpful information. I like your blog.

Anonymous said...

It's about Time to recognize that there is a wide variety of mindsets, not all of whom experience the 'inner'. Not all individuals use or understand metaphor, symbolisms, or the various 'codes' one uses to be 'creative'. That doesn't make them 'sick', in my opinion, it's really a better way to communicate when one doesn't have to 'decode' the aphorisms, idioms, and familiar sayings that people use. At this time that kind of 'creativity' in language is almost out of control, isn't it? That forces new thinking on those who don't ordinarily 'think differently than their normal'.

This seems to me to be due to the different forms that the 'inner' that is important to the individual's development, takes. Few people 'think' like a psychiatrist but that's what needs to happen. And few people know the history of psychiatry or it's origins in Greek mindsets do they? Dreams are just dreams to most people but dreams required interpreting in the Bible! What was new about that when Freud's Interpretation of Dreams made such an impact? The fact that many people do not relate to inner content at all may be due to distances between unsuspected different levels in one's understanding, will and much more than that it seems to me. And probably that's the best way to think about them. Inner content is not standardized, except in my opinion as certain paradigms that people accepted without knowing it. I appreciate your blog, it's very good.

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